Every Friday afternoon for several years a group of men and women have carried signs at the busy intersection of Routes 9 and 47 in Rio Grande originally to protest the Iraq War and more recently against war in general. They have also had signs promoting gun control following acts of gun violence around the country.
Betty Canderan and her husband began protesting after 9/11 and before the Iraq War through the Coalition for Peace and Justice. She went to protest rallies in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City along with others who spoke out about the lack of evidence to invade Iraq. She’s still at it after 12 years.
Jean Conti was probably at some of those same peace rallies. “I got involved in the anti-war movement when Bush declared war on Iraq,” she recalls. “It was so clearly a bogus war that a coalition of peace groups under United for Peace and Justice mobilized the peaceniks to attend huge anti-war rallies.”
Jean was on the email list of the Coalition, so when she moved to Cape May Court House six years ago she “hooked up with the group headed by Norm Cohen in South Jersey” and began protesting at the intersection in Rio Grande.
“During the Bush years we were not welcomed by many of the locals who called us Commies and worse,” she says, “but currently we get mostly positive feedback from passing motorists. If nothing else, our presence raises awareness that peace is an alternative to war.”
According to Norm Cohen, the Coalition for Peace and Justice is a regional chapter of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, which is affiliated with Peace Action, a national organization with 100,000 members. The regional group has 250 members throughout the 2nd congressional district.
Founded in 1982 as part of the Nuclear Freeze movement, the organization’s main goal is to educate the public and elected officials on issues of peace and justice. Cohen noted that the group’s activities in Rio Grande are “a vigil more than a protest” and have been going on there and in Woodstown, NJ since the Iraq War began.
Like other “regulars” involved in the vigil, Barbara Golla got started because she was “disgusted with the lies the Bush Administration offered for getting this country into the Iraq War. This was the tipping point for me to get involved in peace rallies in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. It’s important to have our voices heard. It is a privilege in this country that more people should take advantage of instead of the complacency I see all around me.”
Golla believes the Obama Administration has a far better perspective on diplomacy than the previous one and she is more hopeful about this country’s global leadership, although she considers the path ahead “very complicated and scary.”
You don’t have to agree with these folks, but you have to admire their conviction and their willingness to put their beliefs on the line. And, unlike some others, they don’t feel it’s necessary to carry a gun to make a point!